The undisputed star of Himi’s fishery is Kan-Buri, a mature yellowtail that arrives in Toyama Bay in November. Himi’s Kan Buri are prized throughout Japan. Mr Hirose said that when the fish are shipped, they are affixed with a special seal that certifies their Himi provenance. The Himi brand is synonymous with quality, not only for the peak flavor and texture of the catch but the way its cared for from the time its pulled from the Sea through the auction and the processing and packing at Himi port. The Japanese take their fish very seriously, and I felt I was at the node of one of the most serious, if not the most serous place for fish in all of Japan.
Kan-Buri migratory. They prefer warm water. In November, when the northern Sea of Japan cools, they ride the warm currents south which sweep into Himi’s coast. Mr. Hirose says that the first wave of fish that show up are the biggest and fattest. “They are huge in the belly,” he said. “But it’s not just that. They are pure toro from head to tail. All fat!”
These first large fish, in top condition, are especially prized. They can run from 20 to 30 kilos and sell for $2,000 and $3,000 dollars each. Mr. Hirose said that last year (2013) a chef from LA found out about Himi yellowtail and was able “to import one hundred of them last year to Hollywood”.
A substantial portion of the roughly $40 million a year in business that Himi port generates comes from Kan Buri. There is a ceremonial opening to the season when the run starts in November. Fisheries magnates, the fishermen who man the fleet, and the town’s politicians and business leaders attend.
People all over Japan people eagerly await the seasonal first run of fish. The taste of true Kan Buri last only for a couple of months and then its gone. The fish follow their ancient migration route, and the fishermen of Himi turn to the still splendid variety of the fish that come with spring.
I am an avid fisherman, and I asked what I would need if I wanted to leave my life in the US and go to Himi, buy myself a little skiff and venture out into Toyama Bay to hunt Kan Buri. No one quite knew how to answer this question. I asked if there was a sport fishing charter in town and soon I was in the shop of Jitsuro Mizutani.
He indicated that it might not be a good idea to pursue the Kan Buri. Maybe once in blue moon he caught one, but it was a fluke. Best not to set one’s sights on them or think too deeply about their value and keep a large distance between those of us who “hobby” fished and the commercial fixed-net fleet.
Mr. Mizutani seemed accept with good grace what seemed to me a rigged game. Being a Westerner, I was not as tightly bound by the strict codes of behavior that applied, without exception, to the Japanese, and I still dreamed of venturing out into Toyama Bay in my little boat to chase Kan Buri. I figured a couple of nice fish a month would keep me in rice and pickles. I could sense, however, that the Kan Buri were all wrapped up. As a consolation, Mr. Mizutani showed me photos of the five to eight pound squid he was catching. They were, indeed, impressive squid. But they were not Kan Buri.
By Kenneth Wapner